by Nat Frothingham
MONTPELIER — The task of reimagining, then of remaking Montpelier took another solid step forward on July 27 when about 50 or so citizens gathered at a late afternoon garden party to witness the launch of a new not-for-profit organization called the “Sustainable Montpelier Coalition.”
Clearly some of the excitement that inspired the formation of the new coalition came from last fall and winter’s “Montpelier 2030 Design Competition.” That competition offered a $10,000 prize for re-imagining the capital city at a time of climate change.
Part of what made Montpelier the logical community for such a design competition was the fact that in 2014 the city council officially supported the goal of making the city net-zero in its use of carbon fuels by 2030.
The winning entry came from Team Bridges, a collaboration of 12 professionals from 10 companies and organizations. In accepting the $10,000 prize Team Bridges spokesperson Michael Rushman said, “From the outset, our team’s motto has been ‘More people, fewer cars, better lifestyle.’”
Dan Jones, a key player in putting together last fall and winter’s design competition said that the coalition’s aim was to get things done — to be “a catalyst” — “to be the bridge between the public and private organizations in town.”
“We have a shelf of good ideas at the planning office,” he said. Then he followed up with a critical question, “What is the strategy to make things happen?”
He was very clear that the Montpelier Sustainable Coalition was not a membership organization. “It’s a coalition — lots of people participating,” he said. “Of course we want to work with the merchants, the churches, the not-for-profits, everyone — we want to be the vehicle to make it happen.”
When Jones was asked if there were five critical projects, what project has to happen first, his immediate response was, “We’ve got to change the transportation structure.” He noted that there are currently 900 people who commute into downtown every day. And of course these 900 people have to find downtown spaces to park their 900 cars.
So the task — as Dan Jones sees it — is getting people out of their cars by finding different ways of getting them into town. And here he was talking about such options as ride-sharing or getting 400 to 500 of these people into town by rail.
“We want to open the riverfront,” he said. And then he mentioned moving the summer farmers market onto State Street — from the corner of State and Main to Elm Street — as a way of modeling “a pedestrian-friendly downtown.”
Another coalition organizer Elizabeth Courtney talked by phone to The Bridge a day after the garden party launch. Said Courtney, “There was the excitement of the competition.” And after that, the feeling was in her words, “Well, Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to harness that excitement. That was three months ago.”
Courtney said the Coalition is actively applying for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) designation. But this is still pending an Internal Revenue Service review. In the meantime donations are being accepted by the Net Zero organization.
Reflecting on the three months of meetings that led to the July 27 launch of the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition, Courtney said, “The work took us over. It’s so absorbing. We all agreed to work as volunteers for a while.”
Then she commented on the large task of re-imagining and remaking Montpelier, saying: “It’s an exercise that requires a lot of simultaneous activities, including: reaching out to other organizations and people for their thoughts, coalition-building, seeking support for housing and transportation initiatives, bike and pedestrian systems, innovative financing.”
Then, she said, “There’s the river. We want to turn our eyes toward the river. Most, by far, of the gas stations in town are right by the river. Could these become electric charging stations? We certainly hope so, as part of a residential and commercial development, perhaps.”
The mood at the launching party was decidedly upbeat. Tino O’Brien, one of the organizers and chair of the board of directors, ticked off a list of a handful of Montpelier’s many assets: “Our great recreational facilities, schools, Kellogg-Hubbard, Vermont College of Fine Arts, the Farmers Market, the District Heating Plant, restaurants …” Then he concluded with this endorsement of the crowd of friends and neighbors who had assembled, “We have great people!”
Sustainable Montpelier Coalition
Dan Jones, Executive Director
Board of Directors
Tino O’Brien, Char
Scott Muller, Vice-Chair
Anne Watson, Secretary
Ken Jones, Mary Hooper, John Snell, Barbara Conrey, Eric Zencey, Andrew Brewer, Geof Beyer, Catherine Lowther and Kate Stephenson